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Christmas Magic opens at Rocky Ridge County Park in Springettsbury Township.

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The entrance to Christmas Magic is impossible to miss, with two nutcrackers standing larger than life on either side of a lighted display of its name — a small taste of the half-mile oak forest trail of about 600,000 lights in Rocky Ridge County Park.

Lights dance in time to Christmas music along the path, decorated with rainbows, penguins in colorful scarves, a rotating ferris wheel and Santa and his elves climbing a ladder with their gifts.

"It's pretty special. I understand it's one of the best light shows in the nation, " said Victoria Dick, who was there with her son and his family.

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Theresa and Greg Dick, along with their children — ages 2 and 6 — are returning for their second or third year from the Finger Lakes region of New York. Greg Dick grew up in the area, graduating from Central York High School.

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They said they were looking forward to seeing their favorite light displays — a deer drinking water from a river of blue lights and the old gingerbread men.

Christmas Magic, a local tradition for more than 30 years, kicked off  Friday, Nov. 24.

It was named one of the top 13 holiday events in the country by the Wall Street Journal in 2003 and also was recognized by the Philadelphia Inquirer and Good Morning America, according to the York County Parks and Recreation website.

Scott Palcher, a volunteer with one of the event's sponsors, American Design and Build, gave the history of the tradition to guests as they walked through one of several heated pavilions offering things such as music, snacks, a miniature train display and a visit with Santa.

Electricity was so costly in 1984 that many people were not putting up their Christmas lights, he said. In an effort to create a light display that the community could enjoy, York County Parks and Recreation started with 10,000 lights and props, which grew to the hundreds of thousands of lights used in what's become the parks department's largest program.

This is the first season in decades without Jeri Jones, who ran the program for more than 20 years but retired in August. Rachel Albright took up the challenge.

"I've been learning a lot," Albright said.

Jones helped set everything in motion before he retired, and Albright had a team who had worked on Christmas Magic for years as her mentors. It was "a lot to take on," she said, but it went smoothly.

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New this year is a partnership with the Turkey Hill Experience. The first 40,000 visitors will receive special glasses to view the lights and a coupon for the Turkey Hill Experience.

Chad Somerville, who traveled 3½ hours from New York to see the lights, said the glasses make them look like snowflakes. His wife grew up in the area, and they visit the display each year when they come down for Thanksgiving.

Tim Bieber did not come far — he lives about 10 minutes away. He and his family came to support another family member, singer Deborah Butcher, who was regaling visitors with Christmas tunes as they warmed up in one of the pavilions.

Justin Sponar, from the Red Lion area, also came to see Butcher, a family friend, but he comes every year.

"The kids like it," he said, and it's a great time to spend with family.

Christmas Magic saw about 40,000 wander its lighted trail last year. To find out more about the annual holiday event, visit yorkcountypa.gov.

If You Go:

What: Christmas Magic

Where: Rocky Ridge County Park, 3699 Deininger Road, York

When: 6-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5-9 p.m. Friday through Sunday from Nov. 24 to Dec. 31, Closed December 24-25

Cost: $10 adults, $5 children ages 4-12, Free for children ages 4 and under, $9 ages 59 and over, $7 adult and senior groups (12+)

More information: Call 717-840-7443 for trail updates and closures

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